Last fall, I took a trip to Ireland hosted by Kerrygold, the main producers of butter and cheese in Ireland. (Every time I told someone I was going to see “butter and cheese,” I couldn’t help but think of the episode of The Andy Griffith Show when Aunt Bee fell in love with the “butter and egg” man, but I digress). Ireland is every bit as beautiful as you might imagine—green and lush, full of friendly farm folks, country cottages, manors, pubs and cows.
Yes, there are cows everywhere, and because of the mild, wet climate (and lush grass), they produce milk that is super rich (and yellow). This is why Irish cheese and butter are so flavorful. The highlights of the trip included: breaking in my Wellies lunch with Ireland's Martha Stewart, Rachel Allen (photo at right), churning butter with Madge Ahern, evaluating and eating cheese with Kerrygold cheese grader Enda Howley, and making friends with many a cow. I took a cooking class from Chef Paul Flynn, met Darina Allen and toured her famous Ballymaloe Cookery School, and shopped at the oldest Irish farmers’ market in Middleton. On top of that, a few of us on the tour kissed the Blarney Stone, which, legend has it, imparts the gift of gab (eloquent and charming) to all who kiss it. (Is it working?)
The food was fabulous and simple. I fell in love with the “brown bread,” crumbly and malty tasting, Sticky Toffee Pudding and something called Posset—a lemony custard of sorts. We had scones about everywhere we went, as well as apples (and fruit in general, particularly at breakfast), homemade apple juice, lamb and salmon (from the Blackwater River “down the road”). We also had Bulmers hard cider, Guinness (and for me, a beer drinker, Murphy’s and Smithwick’s).
Here is the scone recipe Rachel Allen and her husband Isaac made for us at lunch. It is from her book, Favorite Food at Home with Rachel Allen (Morrow, 2006). We found them to be very tender, more like biscuits than scones. They served them with a beautiful creamy potato and herb soup, but they would be great with any soup, particularly our Vegetable Bean Soup which everyone who makes it agrees is unbelievably delicious. Together they’re a perfect dinner.
Rachel Allen’s White Soda Scones
3 2/3 cups (1 pound) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups buttermilk milk
Preheat oven to 450F.
Sift flour, salt and baking soda into a large bowl, and rub the mixture with your fingertips to incorporate some air. Make a well in the center and pour in most of the buttermilk. Using one hand, with your fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circle, bringing the flour and liquid together, adding more liquid if necessary. The dough should be quite soft, but not too sticky.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface and do not knead it but gently bring it into a ball. Flatten slightly to a height of about 1 1/2 inches. Cut dough into squares or whatever shape you like. Place scones onto a baking sheet. Bake 10 to 15 minutes (depending on size). When cooked they should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 12 scones.
Cheese-Herb Scone variation:
Add 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, parsley, chives, marjoram, savory or sage to the flour before you pour in the buttermilk. For even more flavor, you can sprinkle the tops with grated Cheddar cheese before they go into the oven.